Spoken Word
Hoffnung at Large

Presenter: Humphrey Lyttelton
BBC Audio
RRP: 12.99
ISBN 0 563 51032 3
Available 01 May 2006


Gerard Hoffnung was an artist, musician, broadcaster, raconteur and genius. A true Renaissance Man, the multifaceted Hoffnung crammed a great deal into his tragically short span. Using much previously unreleased archive material, this audio biography, presented by Humphrey Lyttelton, looks at every aspect of his life and career. From his childhood in Berlin to his eventual fame as a musician and cartoonist, Hoffnung's unique comic vision shines through...

I have to admit that I knew very little about the life of Gerard Hoffnung before listening to this two-disc CD release. While I was aware of his humorous cartoons and that he played the tuba, I wasn't aware of what a true comic genius he was - nor how painfully young he was when he left this earth.

Hoffnung was born in Berlin, Germany in 1925, the son of a Jewish couple, Hilde and Ludwig Hoffnung. He moved, with his mother, to Italy before war broke out and then to London in 1939. Over the years he was many things. He was an artist, teacher, cartoonist, caricaturist, musician and tuba player, broadcaster and raconteur, a much sought after speaker at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, prison visitor, and a Quaker. Sadly he died of a brain haemorrhage on the 28 September 1959 at the tragically young age of 34.

In 1956 his talents combined when he devised a concert of hilarious symphonic caricature at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Foremost composers were commissioned to write some of their wittiest and most humorous compositions. This was so popular that in 1958 an additional festival was conceived, this time it ran for two days.

This CD collection offers golden moments from Desert Island Discs, One Minute Please (the original title of Just a Minute) and Saturday Night on the Light, plus recollections from friends, contemporaries and his widow, Annetta. Contributors include Ian Hislop, Harry Enfield, John Dankworth, Flanders and Swann, and even Colin Dexter (who created Inspector Morse), recalling Hoffnung the schoolmaster. Sam Wanamaker and Joseph Horowitz remember the Hoffnung Festival Hall concerts, which featured compositions for vacuum cleaners, road rammers and a watering can. And, we hear Hoffnung in his own inimitable words, talking about his life, music and art... and telling the famous bricklayer story in his Oxford Union address.

There are numerous interesting anecdotes, including how he first bought his famous tuba; how he undertook life drawings of monsters (offering them tea or a bowl of blood); his meeting with an old lady in an art gallery that was showing his work; and his daily routine - which involved walking in his garden, or around his dinning room table, depending on the weather.

Whether you are a fan of his or, like me, knew very little about the real man behind the humorous illustrations, you should pick up a copy of this CD. At times this audio biography is heart warming, at others it is sad, but we are never far away from a good laugh. How sad that the world was robbed of a true genius.

Darren Rea

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